Cowboys-Browns: Does Dallas Have a Championship Defense?

James WilliamsonSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2008

It is time for the Cowboys to show whether they can produce. Tomorrow, they face the Cleveland Browns in their season opener.

Are they ready? They better be.

Cleveland missed playoffs last year because Tennessee won against the Colts in their final regular-season game. The Browns don't want that to happen again.

The Browns were ranked in the bottom five in total defense last year, so they added Shaun Rogers from Detroit to help bring terror to offensive lines, but it's unlikely that the addition will be enough.

Cleveland is still weak in pass coverage, and other than Shaun Rogers, their defense has not really improved. They did, however, improve their offense, with the acquisition of Donte Stallworth, the speedy receiver from New England.

Stallworth joins Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Joshua Cribbs in the receiving corps, with Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson and running back Jamal Lewis. And the offensive line, lead by Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, is no slouch, allowing only 19 total sacks last season.

This Browns team has the ability to beat the Cowboys because the Cowboys' defense is INCONSISTENT.

That is right. INCONSISTENT!

This team has a defense that acts like my girlfriend. First she wants to go out to dinner, then the next minute she wants spend the evening curled up with me on my couch, watching a movie instead.

This is the defense that gave up 35 points to the New York Giants in last year's season opener. Luckily, the offense put up 45, but still! Any defensive player who cares about the game gets disgusted with himself when he lets the opposition put up those kind of points.

Skip to Week Two, against Miami. They recover a bad snap and intercepted Trent Green four times! An amazing performance! But it makes you wonder—which team will show up in the playoffs?

The Cowboys are not in the playoffs yet, but between you and me, there is no way they will miss the postseason unless some injuries happen to Romo. They have made the playoffs two years in a row, and there is no reason to doubt that they will be there again.

But Dallas does not want to settle for a playoff spot. They want victories in the playoffs.

The defense was decent in playoffs last year, except for Jacques Reeves, who, in my opinion, is a worse coverage guy than Roy Williams. While covering Amani Toomer, he allowed several catches in that 53-second disaster at the end of the first half, which led to a touchdown.

This defense is no "Doomsday Defense." They have the ability, on their best days, to be a great defense, but on their off days, they have been an embarrassment.

The best player, in my opinion, is linebacker Zach Thomas. I have not seen a guy in a Dallas uniform plug up the run like him. Ware and Ellis are also great, but I have seen games where they couldn't lay a hand on the QB.  Bradie James is a roll of the dice every game. 

In the 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers are pass rushers first, cover guys last, with stopping the run duties in between. So the run stopper has to be the line and the middle linebackers—which is why Zach Thomas was picked up.

Our corners are excellent in their prime, but it's hard for these guys to stay in their prime!

Henry hurt his ankle last year and is one of the few players over 30. Can he keep up with these 20-something receivers?

Newman is a Hall of Famer, no question, I have seen some of his highlights, and I'm thinking "art in motion." Unfortunately, he is 50-50 on starting, due to a groin injury.

Adam Jones is hoping to impress his friend and mentor by showing what he can do in his No. 21. The mentor in question is "Neon" Deion Sanders. Deion Sanders is Jones's most loyal supporter and even trained with him in the offseason.

But Adam isn't at Deion's level at cornerback yet.

I think he was, but then he got run over with his suspension and has since been trying to recapture that level of play. I saw him in preseason and he still needs work on his covering skills. He does, thankfully, still have it at returning punts.

Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick cannot be properly evaluated because they are rookies. I hope they are enough if something goes wrong.

The Cowboys are, in my opinion, the best team for producing defensive linemen. Many of those linemen are unheralded because they didn't stand out.  But Harvey Martin, "Too Tall" Jones, Jim Jeffcoat, and Charles Haley all have over 100 sacks.

Martin played with Jones until his career was done, and Jones played with Jeffcoat 'til he retired. Haley is remembered more for his personality than his ability, and he was always overshadowed by the triplets!

The Cowboys' current defensive line has Bigfoot-sized shoes to fill to measure up to the old Cowboys. This line did not have one Pro Bowler last year, unless you count the outside linebackers—Ellis and Ware—who functioned as the pass rushers.

However I think this new line is going to bring terror this year. Tank Johnson, who only played half a season due to a suspension, is now familiar with the defense, has a better grip on his duty, and most importantly, is more acquainted with his fellow linemen.

They don't call him Tank because he guzzles gas! He is going to break out this season and trap the quarterback/deer in his headlights.

Marcus Spears, whom I thought was never going to surpass the good stage, has been explosive on the line in the preseason this year. Jay Ratliff, who replaced Jason Ferguson (now in Miami) last year due to injury, signed a large extension, so Jones is happy with him.

Reserve Jason Hatcher is ingrained in my memory forever after he recovered a Tom Brady fumble last year and ran it back to the house. Chris Canty is hoping to double last year's performance and is still a starter. This line should probably have at least one Pro Bowler, most likely Tank Johnson.

Finally, the safeties.

The safeties are the defense's strength, in my opinion. Roy Williams is not the best cover guy, but last year was his first real year to really cover. Hopefully, he is covering better, but his passion and power are in stopping the run. Despite his shortcomings, he made the Pro Bowl.

The other three, in their roles, are fantastic. Pro Bowler Ken Hamlin was one of the finest safeties in the league, and since joining the Cowboys, he has only gotten better. Pat Watkins is just great.

I think that Jones's hardest decision is choosing his safeties, because Watkins could start for a lot of teams and is a hit on special teams, returning a blocked field goal to the end zone for six. 

If one of our two safeties goes down, Dallas has an excellent backup to fill in.

Keith Davis is, arguably, the best special-teams player on the team and a team captain.

This is the defense that has to take on Cleveland. Let's hope they don't give up 35 points again.


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